“Supply to Your . . . Knowledge Self-Control”
“For this very reason, by your contributing in response all earnest effort, supply to your faith virtue, to your virtue knowledge, to your knowledge self-control.”—2 Pet. 1:5, 6.
1, 2. (a) Why is Peter’s admonition to supply to our knowledge self-control so fitting? (b) Why does exercising self-control not come easy?
GOD’S Word places great stress on our acquiring the knowledge it contains. Such knowledge is indispensable to our gaining everlasting life, even as Jesus said: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) But as we have just seen, knowledge without self-control will not gain us life, and therefore most fittingly the apostle Peter counsels us: “For this very reason, by your contributing in response all earnest effort, supply to your faith virtue, to your virtue knowledge, to your knowledge self-control.”—2 Pet. 1:5, 6.
2 Great as are the value and the need for exercising self-control, so great might be said to be the effort required to do so. Why? Why must even mature Christians be ever on guard to “go on walking worthily of God,” although admittedly it takes a greater effort on the part of some than on the part of others? (1 Thess. 2:12) Because, under present conditions, adhering to the course of rectitude is the very opposite of following the lines of least resistance, which, in turn, is due to the three foes that we as Christians have pitted against us, the flesh, the world and the Devil.
3. What foe within us makes self-control difficult, as seen by what Scriptural testimony?
3 First of all there are the inherited fallen tendencies of the flesh. Yes, just as we have inherited various physical infirmities from our forebears so we have also inherited moral weaknesses or flaws in personality. We cannot escape it, “The fathers were the ones that ate the unripe grape, but it was the teeth of the sons that got set on edge.” As Jehovah himself said about humankind right after the Flood: “The inclination of the heart of man is bad from his youth up.” And it seems that the more gifted or forceful the personality is, the more difficulty its owner has in exercising self-control; a fact borne out innumerable times not only by secular history but also by Scriptural examples. In particular is the problem that all servants of Jehovah have in exercising self-control well stated by the apostle Paul: “For I know that in me, that is, in my flesh, there dwells nothing good; for ability to wish is present with me, but ability to work out what is fine is not present. For the good that I wish I do not do, but the bad that I do not wish is what I practice.” No question about it, Paul recognized he had a fight on his hands to exercise self-control. But it is clear from both his own words and his record that he never gave up warring against the weaknesses of the flesh and that they did not gain mastery over him, or he could never have written: “In no way are we giving any cause for stumbling, that our ministry might not be found fault with.” He browbeat his body, keeping it under control. It might be said that by keeping up our warfare against selfishness, against a lack of self-control in little things, we will not so likely cause stumbling by yielding to gross sins.—Jer. 31:29; Gen. 8:21; Rom. 7:18, 19; 2 Cor. 6:3; 1 Cor. 9:27; Ps. 51:5; Mark 14:72.
4, 5. (a) What visible foes do we have to face in our efforts at self-control? (b) What invisible foes?
4 And secondly, we have lined up against our efforts to exercise self-control this wicked system of things composed of Godless, selfish men. They endeavor to exploit us by appealing to our weaknesses for their personal gain. (1 John 2:15, 16) It is to their interest that we give way to our passions, overindulge in food and drink, engage in loose unclean conduct, read lascivious literature, attend immoral movies, become fanatics in sports, or needlessly burden ourselves down with debts because of buying things we could ill afford. And then there is the example of those about us who yield to such temptations.
5 Thirdly, we have also to contend with the ones exercising invisible control of this present wicked system of things, Satan its god, together with his demons. (2 Cor. 4:4; Eph. 6:12) He succeeded in causing Eve to act without self-control and tried his worst to cause Jesus to act in a similar manner. (Matt. 4:1-10) We may never forget that we have not only visible foes to deal with but, most of all, invisible ones, the chief of which “walks about like a roaring lion, seeking to devour someone.”—1 Pet. 5:8.
GOD’S SPIRIT AND WORD OUR HELPERS
6. (a) What poweful force has Jehovah provided to aid us in acquiring self-control? (b) How in particular can that force be obtained?
6 But even as we have powerful forces working against our exercising self-control, we have still more powerful aids to help us to exercise it, chief of which are God’s holy spirit and his Word. As we read: “Not by a military force, nor by power, but by my spirit,” Jehovah says. (Zech. 4:6) What a great help God’s holy spirit is in exercising self-control Paul makes clear: “Keep walking by spirit and you will carry out no fleshly desire at all.” That IS self-control! More than in any other way, that holy spirit can be acquired by regularly and earnestly feeding on God’s spirit-filled Word. From Genesis to Revelation it is filled with direct and indirect admonition to exercise self-control. As we have seen, it gives us many warning examples of the harm that results from a lack of self-control and many fine examples showing the wisdom of exercising self-control and the rewards for it.—Gal. 5:16.
7-9. (a) What counsel does God’s Word give us as to controlling our thoughts? (b) Our spirit or emotions? (c) Our affections, longings or desires?
7 Among the things that God’s Word directly counsels us is to control our thoughts. Due to inherited weaknesses and the imperfect and wicked conditions all about us, it is very easy to think wrong thoughts, proud, bitter, resentful, impure and self-pitying thoughts. Because of this we are counseled to ‘make our minds over’ and to train them to ‘keep considering the things that are true, righteous, chaste, lovable, virtuous and praiseworthy.’ The goal we are to strive for in our thinking is to bring “every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.” What a high standard that sets for us!—Rom. 12:2; Phil. 4:8; 2 Cor. 10:5.
8 By regularly reading God’s Word we also get much direct counsel on controlling our spirit, our temper, our emotions. “He that is slow to anger is better than a mighty man” who is not slow to anger, and therefore without self-control, “and he that is controlling his spirit than the one capturing a city,” but who has not made captive his spirit. Yes, “as a city broken through, without a wall,” and so without any defenses, “is the man that has no restraint for his spirit.”—Prov. 16:32; 25:28.
9 Then again, God’s Word directly counsels us to control our affections, our longings and desires—the things we set our hearts on—so important because that is where all the trouble starts. Who would ever be guilty of a sin meriting disfellowshiping by the Christian congregation if he always controlled these? As Jesus so well warned: “Out of the heart come wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, fornications, thieveries, false testimonies, blasphemies,” all of which defile a man and bring forth bad fruit. (Matt. 15:19, 20) Wisely we are counseled: “More than all else that is to be guarded, safeguard your heart, for out of it are the sources of life.” Yes, the first step in the wrong direction is taken when one permits the heart to dwell on things that are pleasurable but bad in God’s sight, even as the disciple James shows: “Each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire,” dwelling on things forbidden by God. “Then the desire, when it has become fertile, gives birth to sin; in turn, sin, when it has been accomplished, brings forth death.” Truly by perusing God’s Word we get much fine counsel on controlling our thoughts, our spirit and our desires!—Prov. 4:23; Jas. 1:14, 15.
10. What does God’s Word have to say about controlling our tongues?
10 In God’s Word we also find much counsel on the need to control our tongues. Repeatedly wise King Solomon counsels us in this regard, as at Proverbs 10:19: “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression, but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.” Inspired Christian writers counsel us likewise: “Let fornication and uncleanness of every kind or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people; neither shameful conduct nor foolish talking nor obscene jesting, things which are not becoming, but rather the giving of thanks.” (Eph. 5:3, 4) In particular does the disciple James have much to say about the need to control the tongue and even states that unless we control our tongues our form of worship is futile. What forceful counsel for us to control our tongues!—Jas. 1:26; 3:1-12.
11. What counsel do the Scriptures give as to how we should walk?
11 Thoughts, words—and actions. Yes, by feeding on God’s Word we will also be helped to exercise control of our actions by reason of the fine counsel it gives. Among the ways it gives us this is by counseling us on how we should walk, how we should conduct ourselves. The apostle Paul considered this so important that he had something to say about it to every congregation to which he wrote. Thus he counseled the Christians at Rome: “As in the daytime let us walk decently.” The Christians at Ephesus he admonished: “Keep strict watch that how you walk is not as unwise but as wise persons, buying out the opportune time for yourselves, because the days are wicked.” For the Colossians he prayed that “you may be filled with the accurate knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual discernment, in order to walk worthily of Jehovah to the end of fully pleasing him as you go on bearing fruit in every good work.” To the newly formed congregation at Thessalonica he wrote: “We kept exhorting each one of you . . . that you should go on walking worthily of God”; “that you may be walking decently.” To walk decently, to walk worthily of God, to keep strict watch how we walk, all take self-control!—Rom. 13:13; Eph. 5:15, 16; Col. 1:9, 10; 1 Thess. 2:11, 12; 4:12; 1 Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:16, 25; Phil. 3:16.
OTHER ACTIVITIES CONDUCIVE TO SELF-CONTROL
12. How does guarding our association aid us in having self-control?
12 Among other activities, in addition to studying God’s Word, that are conducive to self-control is associating with fellow Christians, as in obedience to the counsel found at Hebrews 10:23-25. By associating with our Christian brothers who also appreciate the need of self-control, we will be aided in exercising it ourselves. They are not so likely to tempt us to indulge in loose conduct. Especially is this true when it comes to vacations. Vacations spent at the Kingdom Ministry School, at assemblies and conventions or in serving where the need is greater, as in isolated territory, are a safeguard to us. But whether on vacation or at any other time, if we choose to associate with those who do not have the same high standard as we have regarding self-control, we may well find ourselves imitating them, thus spoiling our useful habits. Wisely we are warned: “Do not have companionship with anyone given to anger; and with a man having fits of rage you must not enter in, that you may not get familiar with his paths and certainly take a snare for your soul.” Voluntarily associating with such is a mistake!—Prov. 22:24, 25; 1 Cor. 15:33.
13. How does faithful field service help us to cultivate self-control?
13 Then again, faithful, consistent, diligent activity in the Christian ministry is conducive to self-control. It takes self-control to go to bed on time on Saturday night to get a good night’s rest so as to be in fine fettle for Sunday’s theocratic activities. It takes self-control to get up early Sunday morning so as to be able to meet with other Christians for field service. It takes self-control to continue in the ministry as long as one knows one should when the weather is inclement and little interest is found at the doors of the people. And as one goes from door to door one meets up with many a trying situation which may challenge one’s self-control. He may be insulted, slapped on the cheek as it were; but for the sake of the good news one will turn the other cheek—that takes self-control! And so it does, to answer with mildness and deep respect when one in authority demands a reason for the hope one has; even as it does to answer with mildness when one meets up with a raging householder.—Matt. 5:39; 1 Pet. 3:15; Prov. 15:1.
14. Of what help is prayer toward gaining self-control?
14 Still another activity conducive to cultivating self-control is prayer. Frequently drawing close to God is a real help. Look to him for help in time of need or stress or temptation. Never neglect prayer, but make it a habit, not a mechanical one, but an earnest, sincere and heartfelt habit. Ask God for help, keep asking him, beg his forgiveness when you have failed to exercise self-control. Each time earnestly tell him you will strive to do better the next time. Yes, keep praying, ‘do not bring me into temptation’; “pray incessantly,” “persevere in prayer,” in regard to your acquiring self-control.—Matt. 6:13; 1 Thess. 5:17; Rom. 12:12.
QUALITIES AIDING IN CULTIVATING SELF-CONTROL
15. What can be said about the fear of Jehovah as aiding self-control?
15 Of great help in cultivating self-control are also such fine Christian mental attitudes or qualities as fear of Jehovah, humility, faith and love. No question about the fear of Jehovah aiding us in cultivating self-control. Rightly we fear Jehovah because of his position and attributes. To him as the universal Sovereign we are accountable and “there is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.” Rightly we fear to displease him, for he is perfect in justice whereas we are imperfect, sinful, prone to go the wrong way. Rightly we fear him also because of his unlimited power: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” This fear of God is “the beginning,” “the start of wisdom,” for it “means the hating of bad.” Yes, it is not enough that we love truth and righteousness, but, like Jesus Christ, we must hate, abhor, have a strong aversion to all lawlessness, no matter how pleasant, desirable or appealing it may be to the fallen flesh. That means our ‘replacing the old personality with its practices with the new personality.’—Heb. 4:13; 10:31; Ps. 111:10; Prov. 9:10; 8:13; Col. 3:9, 10.
16. In what ways is humility conducive to self-control?
16 Another quality that is of great help in our exercising self-control is humility. And no wonder, since one of the greatest obstacles to self-control is pride. The humble person, for one thing, is not easily offended and so not so likely to be tempted to act without self-control. The humble person is more likely to have patience in dealing with others and therefore to be long-suffering, which makes for self-control. In seeking to cultivate self-control we need Jehovah’s help, his undeserved kindness, and that is available, not to the proud but to the humble: “God opposes the haughty ones, but he gives undeserved kindness to the humble ones.” The wicked ones mentioned by Jude who turn “the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct,” and so are lacking in self-control, are also proud, “disregarding lordship and speaking abusively of glorious ones.”—Jas. 4:6; Jude 4, 8; 1 Pet. 5:5.
17, 18. (a) How can the spirit’s fruit of faith assist us in self-control? (b) How can love?
17 Also able to aid us in the cultivating of self-control is faith in Jehovah God and in his promises. How often we become disturbed because of a lack of faith in God, making it difficult for us to exercise self-control! Job was able to endure because of his faith. It took real self-control not to “curse God and die,” and he was able to exercise it because of his faith, which enabled him to say, “Even if he would slay me, would I not wait?” Faith will enable us not to get heated up because of evildoers but to exercise self-control, waiting on Jehovah, knowing that vengeance belongs to him and that he will repay. Faith will enable us to exercise self-control and not succumb to the temptations of materialism, knowing that this world and its desires will soon pass away. Faith will enable us to exercise self-control when being persecuted, knowing that the worst that man can do is only to kill the body.—Job 2:9; 13:15; Ps. 37:1; Rom. 12:19; 1 John 2:15-17; Matt. 10:28.
18 And, above all, love will help us to cultivate self-control. If we love Jehovah with all our heart, soul, mind and strength, then we will certainly seek to please him by exercising self-control. It will make us careful that we do not bring reproach upon his name by bad conduct. And loving our neighbor as ourselves will also call for our exercising self-control, so as not to cause him any pain or harm, and especially so that we do not stumble him. Showing the connection between love and self-control are the words of Paul: “For this is what God wills, the sanctifying of you, that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you should know how to get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor [that takes self-control], not in covetous sexual appetite such as also those nations have which do not know God; that no one go to the point of harming and encroach upon the rights of his brother in this matter, because Jehovah is one who exacts punishment for all these things.” Love for our brothers will keep us from erring in such matters by a lack of self-control, even as it will enable us to obey the counsel: “Keep making straight paths for your feet, that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather that it may be healed.” Paul set us a fine example in this: “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat flesh at all, that I may not make my brother stumble.”—1 Thess. 4:3-8; Heb. 12:13; 1 Cor. 8:13.
BENEFITS AND REWARDS OF SELF-CONTROL
19. What benefits accrue to body and mind from self-control?
19 The benefits and rewards for exercising self-control are truly great. This is as it should be, since Jehovah the righteous God is the universal Sovereign. Even as failure to exercise self-control results in harm all out of proportion to the immediate advantages or pleasures experienced, so it might be said that exercising self-control results in benefits all out of proportion to the efforts involved. For one thing, self-control makes for health of body and mind. Thus one of America’s leading nutritionists stated that “health is the reward of temperance” or self-control, and that “to be lean with a settled temper means long life,” and recent research has shown that psychiatric patients are far more numerous among college girls who are promiscuous than among those who hold on to their virtue.
20. Exercising self-control gives what spiritual benefits?
20 Even more important, self-control helps us to have self-respect. We all know what God requires of us individually and, to the extent that we earnestly and honestly try to measure up to that standard, we will enjoy a clear conscience and have self-respect. (1 Pet. 3:16) It will also keep us from following “after the crowd for evil ends.” (Ex. 23:2) Moreover, exercising self-control will greatly aid us in cultivating the other fruits of the spirit. We cannot have joy unless we discipline our minds, hearts and bodies, for Christian joy is not mere feeling but is based on principle. The same is true of peace. How can we have peace if we keep getting into trouble because of a failure to exercise self-control? And as has already been noted, long-suffering goes hand in hand with self-control. Likewise, to be kind and mild when it really counts, as under trying situations, requires great self-control, even as it does to hold on to goodness in the face of temptations to yield to selfishness.—Gal. 5:22, 23.
21. How does our exercising self-control benefit others?
21 Self-control results in blessings, not only to ourselves, but also to others. For one thing, it will keep us from stumbling others. (Phil. 1:9, 10) It will help us to become good examples to them. It makes for good relations within our own families, where so often the need to exercise self-control is overlooked, even as it makes for good relations in the Christian congregation, at one’s place of employment, and at school. To the extent that we have responsible positions or aspire to such, to that extent we must strive even harder to exercise self-control, for such positions demand more of it. Thus a key question by which symphony orchestra musicians judge conductors is: “Does he maintain self-control under pressure?” Yes, the Christian overseer must be “moderate in habits, . . . orderly, . . . reasonable,” all of which means that he must be “self-controlled.”—1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:6-9.
22. Above all else, in what does our exercising self-control result?
22 But above all, self-control makes for good relations with Jehovah God and contributes to the vindication of his name. Only by exercising self-control can we prove ourselves wise and make his heart glad, so that he can answer the one taunting him. Truly the need for self-control can hardly be overemphasized!—Prov. 27:11.